22 February 2016
Our top tips for tenants
1. You don’t always have to steam clean the carpets when you move out
So you’ve scrubbed the house from top to toe, only to find your agent or landlord wants a receipt for carpet steam-cleaning before they’ll give your bond back.
- When tenants are moving out, they’re often told they must steam clean the carpets – however this is not always the case.
- In NSW for example, you’re only obliged to have the carpets professionally cleaned if you’ve agreed to it because you are keeping a pet.
- Otherwise, and in other parts of Australia, unless professional carpet cleaning is written in as a special term on your lease, you’re just responsible for leaving the carpet as you found it, taking into account fair wear and tear.
So the best thing to do is use your common sense.
- If you’ve made a mess of the carpet, and want to be sure you get your bond back, then it’s best to get it steam cleaned.
- Otherwise, as long as you’re leaving the carpets in a reasonable and clean state, there’s no need for expensive professional cleaning.
2. The landlord must disclose any important relevant facts about the property
Just as they have to do when selling, when renting out a property the owner should make people aware of any relevant ‘material facts’. For example, in NSW tenants must be told if the property :
- has been subject to floods or bushfires in the past five years
- has any significant health or safety risks that are not obvious
- has been the scene of a violent crime in the past five years
- may not include a residential parking permit
- requires tenants to share a driveway or walkway
- or if the landlord is planning to sell the property
3. Who pays?
Tenants are often caught by surprise when presented with the landlord’s water bill and asked to pay for the water they’ve used.
- As a tenant, while you do have to pay for water usage, you can’t be asked to pay for any other associated supply charges (except for in South Australia, where these costs can be passed on to the tenant).
- However if you’re a tenant on a shared meter – as is often the case in apartments – you can’t be charged for your water usage. This doesn’t apply in South Australia or Western Australia, where consumption on a shared meter can be charged provided the method of calculation is listed on your lease.
- Landlords have to meet certain requirements before passing water usage charges onto their tenants. For example, in New South Wales and Queensland you can’t be charged for usage unless the correct water efficiency measures are installed.
4. The landlord must fix ‘defects’ like mould (or rats – eww!)
When there’s a problem like mould or vermin at a rental property, tenants can be asked to use some common sense methods like ensuring everything is kept clean, windows are left open for fresh air, or using a dehumidifier.
- But if these measures don’t work, tenants can insist the landlord take other measures to fix the problem.
- You should take clear photographs of the problems and record the details of what you’ve done to try and remove them, as well as receipts for any costs you incurred. Be sure to contact your landlord or property manager as early as possible.
- If a landlord does nothing to fix the problem, you can go to your rental tribunal to resolve the problem, or negotiate to terminate your lease or receive a reduction in the rent. You could also apply for compensation for things such as any destroyed belongings and for the cost of cleaning or damp removal products.
- A word of warning though – if it’s determined that the tenants actions caused the pests or mould, it’s possible you’ll be charged fees for damaging the landlord’s property.
5. Rental increases – how much and how often?
- The good news is that as long as you’re on a lease, provided it’s for a period of less than two years, your rent generally can’t be increased – unless a special provision has been written into your lease.
- However once your lease expires, unless you choose to sign another one you’ll be subject to potential rent increases. Normally your rent can only be increased once every six to 12 months (depending where you live) – but in NSW there’s unfortunately no limit to how often your rent can be increased.
- Tenants are must be given 60 day’s notice of a rent increase – except in the NT where it’s only 30 days.
6. What’s reasonable? Excessive rental increases
- There’s no set percentage by which rent can or can’t increase – but a landlord can’t make an ‘excessive’ increase.
- If as a tenant you believe a rent increase is excessive, you could try negotiating with them, particularly if you’re a reliable and responsible tenant.
- Otherwise, you could try disputing the increase through your state’s appropriate service.
- When determining if a rent increase is reasonable or excessive, look at factors such as:
- the amount of the proposed increase compared to the current rent
- how long it’s been since the last rent increase
- rent charged for similar properties in the area
- the condition of the property
- the amount and value of recent repairs to the property
7. Fee-free rent payments
You shouldn’t have to incur a fee just for the privilege of paying your rent!
- A lot of landlords and agencies try to insist on the use of rental payment services that charge tenants an admin or processing fee when they make their rent payments.
- Tenants in New South Wales, Queensland and South Australia must be offered at least one fee-free way to pay their rent. Unfortunately this protection isn’t yet offered to tenants in other Australian states and territories.
8. Rights to repairs
The law requires a landlord to maintain their property in reasonable condition – but of course this doesn’t always happen. A recent survey by the Tenants’ Union of NSW revealed that worryingly, 77% of respondents have put up with a problem because they were worried about adverse consequences if they asked to get it fixed.
- You can’t stop paying your rent if your landlord doesn’t conduct repairs – but you may be entitled to apply to your relevant tenancy tribunal to have your rent paid into a special account until the repairs are done.
- So what sort of repairs and maintenance are covered? Things like excessive mould or broken stovetop elements should be.
- The standard of repairs you can expect will differ depending on:
- the state of the property when you moved in
- the age of the property
- the amount of rent you pay
9. Getting your bond back
You don’t always need to wait for your landlord to sign off before getting your bond back.
- In New South Wales, as soon as you move out of a rental property you can apply for your bond refund – your landlord needs to contact the bond board asap if there’s anything they want to complain about.
- Same goes in Victoria – you can apply for your bond refund from the Victorian Civil and Administrative Tribunal (VCAT) if you can’t reach an agreement with the landlord. Your landlord has to make any claims on your bond within 10 days of end of your lease.
10. The law provides protection for tenants in all Australian state and territories
Check here for the latest information on rights for renters in your area: